Visalia Parks and Recreation Foundation has officially stepped away from the Fourth of July Freedom Celebration after 12 years of running the event. According to Carol Hoppert-Hays, Foundation president, the Foundation told the city and larger community about five years ago that it didn’t have the resources to put on such an elaborate celebration. The Foundation aggressively started looking early last year for a service group to step forward but none did. Unless someone steps forward in the next couple of days there will be no fireworks show in Visalia for the first time in decades.
When looking back at old newspaper clippings and paperwork, Hoppert-Hays estimated that the show has been a Visalia tradition for the last 45 to 50 years, with a few missed years in the eighties. In the past the show has been run as a for-profit by the Kiwanis, among other groups.
“I hate to see it go away,” Hoppert-Hays said, “but we have been telling everyone for five or six years that we can no longer do it. We don’t have the resources.”
When the Foundation took the fireworks show over it was only supposed to be a stopgap measure until someone else stepped up to the plate. Their 18 members work almost all year on the event in addition to 30 volunteers recruited by the Foundation.
“Even though it is a recreational event it doesn’t fit into the Foundation’s mission and ate up all our time,” she said.
Another deciding factor in the Foundation’s stepping away from the event was the safety issue. The Visalia Fire Department does not feel that the Mineral King Bowl is an appropriate venue, spokesman have said. The Foundation has had to modify their program by clearing a wider area and not shooting the fireworks as high. Anyone who used to enjoy watching the fireworks from their front yard close to the stadium can no longer see them. The fireworks show stayed at Mineral King Bowl because of tradition, but the fire department has let it be known that the bowl can only be used for a few more years. New coordinators will have to use a different location such as Riverway Sports Park or Gropetti Stadium at Golden West High School.
It takes anywhere from $30,000 to $55,000 to run the show, which enjoys an attendance of approximately 8000 people. Hoppert-Hays said that the Foundation trimmed the cost of the show to get it into the black by changing from a computer-generated to a hand-fired program. It was also able to extend the show from 15 minutes to 20 with the hand-fired fireworks.
To keep it a free event the Visalia City Council has donated $10,000 every year. Admission is free but donations are requested at the gate. This year the city council has discussed the possibility of donating the $10,000 to a new park being built at Houston Elementary School.
Even though the Foundation has officially stepped away from the event, it would be more than happy to help a new group take over and show them how it has been run. Hoppert-Hays said that they never ran the show to make money but it could be a money-maker, if admission were charged.
“This show needs much more attention than we could give it. The event would be perfect for a large service group with a lot of members.”